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The ‘thrifty phenotype’ hypothesis proposed that fetal undernutrition increases risk of diabetes in later life. Undernourished low birthweight Indian babies are paradoxically more adipose compared to well-nourished European babies, and are at higher risk of diabetes in later life. Twin pregnancies are an example of in utero growth restrictive environment due to shared maternal nutrition. There are few studies of body composition in twins. We performed secondary analysis of anthropometric body composition of twins and singletons in Guinea-Bissau, an economically deprived African country.
Anthropometric data were available on 7–34 year-old twins (n = 209, 97 males) and singletons (n = 182, 86 males) in the Guinea-Bissau Twin Registry at the Bandim Health Project. Twins had lower birthweight (2420 vs 3100 g, p < 0.001); and at follow-up, lower height (HAZ mean Z-score difference, −0.21, p = 0.055), weight (WAZ −0.73, p = 0.024) and BMI (BAZ −0.22, p = 0.079) compared to singletons but higher adiposity (skinfolds: +0.33 SD, p = 0.001). Twins also had higher fasting (+0.38 SD, p < 0.001) and 2-hour OGTT glucose concentrations (+0.29 SD, p < 0.05). Linear mixed-effect model accounting for intrapair correlations and interactions confirmed that twins were thinner but fatter across the age range. Data on maternal morbidity and prematurity were not available in this cohort.
African populations are known to have a muscular (less adipose) body composition. Demonstration of a thin-fat phenotype in twins in a low socio-economic African country supports the thesis that it could be a manifestation of early life undernutrition and not exclusive to Indians. This phenotype could increase risk of diabetes and related conditions.
Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest natural twinning rate in the world. Unfortunately, due to lack of adequate care during pregnancy, labor and postnatally, twin mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa also remains very high. Thus, it has been estimated that one in five twins dies during the childhood years. In spite of this, surprisingly few twin studies have been conducted in the region, making additional epidemiological data much needed. In 2009, we established one of the first twin registries in Sub-Saharan Africa at the Bandim Health Project in Guinea-Bissau. The registry had two main objectives. First, we wanted to describe the twinning rate and mortality patterns among newborn twins, including mortality risk factors and hospitalization patterns. Such studies can help the local clinicians improve twin health by identifying the most vulnerable children. Second, and in light of the rapidly increasing diabetes rates in Africa, we wanted to use the registry to particularly focus on metabolic disorders. Twins are often born with low birth weight, which according to the ‘thrifty phenotype hypothesis’ could predispose them to metabolic disorders later in life. Yet, no such ‘fetal programming’ data have previously been available from African twins despite the fact that nutritional patterns and influences from other factors (e.g., infections) could be markedly different here compared to high-income settings. In this article, we summarize the findings and current status of the Guinea-Bissau twin registry.
We analyzed birth order differences in means and variances of height and body mass index (BMI) in monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) twins from infancy to old age. The data were derived from the international CODATwins database. The total number of height and BMI measures from 0.5 to 79.5 years of age was 397,466. As expected, first-born twins had greater birth weight than second-born twins. With respect to height, first-born twins were slightly taller than second-born twins in childhood. After adjusting the results for birth weight, the birth order differences decreased and were no longer statistically significant. First-born twins had greater BMI than the second-born twins over childhood and adolescence. After adjusting the results for birth weight, birth order was still associated with BMI until 12 years of age. No interaction effect between birth order and zygosity was found. Only limited evidence was found that birth order influenced variances of height or BMI. The results were similar among boys and girls and also in MZ and DZ twins. Overall, the differences in height and BMI between first- and second-born twins were modest even in early childhood, while adjustment for birth weight reduced the birth order differences but did not remove them for BMI.
A trend toward greater body size in dizygotic (DZ) than in monozygotic (MZ) twins has been suggested by some but not all studies, and this difference may also vary by age. We analyzed zygosity differences in mean values and variances of height and body mass index (BMI) among male and female twins from infancy to old age. Data were derived from an international database of 54 twin cohorts participating in the COllaborative project of Development of Anthropometrical measures in Twins (CODATwins), and included 842,951 height and BMI measurements from twins aged 1 to 102 years. The results showed that DZ twins were consistently taller than MZ twins, with differences of up to 2.0 cm in childhood and adolescence and up to 0.9 cm in adulthood. Similarly, a greater mean BMI of up to 0.3 kg/m2 in childhood and adolescence and up to 0.2 kg/m2 in adulthood was observed in DZ twins, although the pattern was less consistent. DZ twins presented up to 1.7% greater height and 1.9% greater BMI than MZ twins; these percentage differences were largest in middle and late childhood and decreased with age in both sexes. The variance of height was similar in MZ and DZ twins at most ages. In contrast, the variance of BMI was significantly higher in DZ than in MZ twins, particularly in childhood. In conclusion, DZ twins were generally taller and had greater BMI than MZ twins, but the differences decreased with age in both sexes.
For over 100 years, the genetics of human anthropometric traits has attracted scientific interest. In particular, height and body mass index (BMI, calculated as kg/m2) have been under intensive genetic research. However, it is still largely unknown whether and how heritability estimates vary between human populations. Opportunities to address this question have increased recently because of the establishment of many new twin cohorts and the increasing accumulation of data in established twin cohorts. We started a new research project to analyze systematically (1) the variation of heritability estimates of height, BMI and their trajectories over the life course between birth cohorts, ethnicities and countries, and (2) to study the effects of birth-related factors, education and smoking on these anthropometric traits and whether these effects vary between twin cohorts. We identified 67 twin projects, including both monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) twins, using various sources. We asked for individual level data on height and weight including repeated measurements, birth related traits, background variables, education and smoking. By the end of 2014, 48 projects participated. Together, we have 893,458 height and weight measures (52% females) from 434,723 twin individuals, including 201,192 complete twin pairs (40% monozygotic, 40% same-sex dizygotic and 20% opposite-sex dizygotic) representing 22 countries. This project demonstrates that large-scale international twin studies are feasible and can promote the use of existing data for novel research purposes.
Twins traditionally retain a special status in many African societies. In Guinea-Bissau, twins are often well regarded yet still suffer from a very high mortality, especially in the perinatal and infant period. At the Bandim Health Project, a health and demographic surveillance site, we have recently established one of the first twin registries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Our short-term aim is to describe twin mortality and morbidity in order to design appropriate health interventions. Our long-term goal is a large-scale database to explore the pathogenesis of prevalent diseases; for example, diabetes mellitus, metabolic syndrome, and infectious diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria. A major focus area is also the etiology of low birth weight and how epigenetic processes might modulate the consequences of low birth weight in Sub-Saharan Africa. For this, monozygotic twin studies represent a powerful tool. Though twin studies have been carried out by the Bandim Health Project for more than 30 years, the renewed registry described here was officially established in 2009 and includes both a cohort of newborn twins and a cohort of young and adult twins. Currently more than 1,500 twins are being followed in the two cohorts combined. We believe that the registry holds exciting possibilities and will encourage the establishment of further twin registries across the region.
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